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News Article | January 20, 2011
Site: gigaom.com

Updated: The most talked about company in cleantech in 2010, fuel cell company Bloom Energy, announced Thursday morning that it’s launching an offer for 10-year electricity contracts with no upfront payment for the Bloom Box fuel cell itself, which usually costs between $700,000 to $800,000. Calling the service “Bloom Electrons,” the product is basically like a power purchase agreement, which are common for the renewable energy sector and utilities. Bloom Energy, which has raised at least $400 million from investors, is saying that over a 10-year period, it can offer its customers electricity contracts for its Bloom Boxes for a cost less than standard grid power. Bloom says “customers can immediately save up to 20 percent on their energy bills,” and that Walmart, Staples, Coca-Cola, Caltech, Kaiser Permanente and BD have signed up for the program. Update: According to VentureWire, Bloom has “quietly raised about $100 million more in equity in the past few months . . . according to two people familiar with the matter.” While Bloom didn’t specify that customers will only save that kind of money in California, or only in states with aggressive subsidies, it seems like the math would work out that way. Lux Research has estimated that the cost of electricity over a Bloom server’s 10-year life is “$0.08/kWh to $0.10/kWh (when running as base-load for 24 hours a day), including government incentives and assuming a $7/mmBTU natural gas long-term contract.” Without subsidies, Lux predicted “electricity would cost $0.13/kWh to $0.14/kWh, with about $0.09/kWh from system cost and about $0.05/kWh coming from fuel cost. Note that this is high compared to average retail U.S. electricity costs of roughly $0.11/kWh.” Perhaps removing the upfront fee will bring in more customers, though Bloom Energy founder KR Sridhar has maintained that the payback on investment for Bloom Box customers is 3 – 5 years in energy cost savings. Sridhar confirmed to me that the 3 – 5 year claimed payback is with the California and federal subsidy. If you’re not familiar with the Bloom Box product, it’s a fuel cell that looks like an industrial-sized refrigerator. Fuel cells are kind of like chemical batteries, which combine solutions to create a chemical reaction that delivers electricity. Fuel cells have been under development by hundreds of manufacturers in the consumer electronics and auto industries for decades, but have remained too expensive and have been unable to break into the mainstream. The nine-year-old Bloom launched last year to much fanfare, at an event with a list of customers like Google, and eBay, and with speeches by its celebrity backers: Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr and Colin Powell. The Bloom Box sucks up oxygen on one side and fuel (natural gas, biomass, etc) on the other. Bloom bakes sand and cuts it into little squares that are turned into a ceramic, which are then coated with green and black “inks.” Using a special process, Bloom creates these ceramic discs and stacks them together interspersed with metal plates of “a cheap metal alloy.” The bigger the stack, the more power the Bloom Box will create. Bloom is having a live press conference to talk more about the announcement at 10:00 a.m. PST at Caltech. Watch it if you want to follow the news.

Gruner Ag | Date: 2007-08-21


News Article
Site: http://phys.org/physics-news/

Ulrich Wiesner, a materials science and engineering professor who led the group, says it's the first time a superconductor, in this case niobium nitride (NbN), has self-assembled into a porous, 3-D gyroidal structure. The gyroid is a complex cubic structure based on a surface that divides space into two separate volumes that are interpenetrating and contain various spirals. Pores and the superconducting material have structural dimensions of only around 10 nanometers, which could lead to entirely novel property profiles of superconductors. Currently, superconductivity for practical uses such as in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners and fusion reactors is only possible at near absolute zero (-459.67 degrees Fahrenheit), although recent experimentation has yielded superconducting at a comparatively balmy -70 degrees C (-94 degrees F). "There's this effort in research to get superconducting at higher temperatures, so that you don't have to cool anymore," Wiesner said. "That would revolutionize everything. There's a huge impetus to get that." Wiesner and his co-author Sol Gruner had been dreaming for over two decades about making a gyroidal superconductor in order to explore how this would affect the superconducting properties. The difficulty was in figuring out a way to synthesize the material. The breakthrough was the decision to use NbN as the superconductor. Superconductivity, in which electrons flow without resistance and the resultant energy-sapping heat, is still an expensive proposition. MRIs use superconducting magnets, but the magnets constantly have to be cooled, usually with a combination of liquid helium and nitrogen. Wiesner's group started by using organic block copolymers to structure direct sol-gel niobium oxide (Nb2O5) into three-dimensional alternating gyroid networks by solvent evaporation-induced self-assembly. Simply put, the group built two intertwined gyroidal network structures, then removed one of them by heating in air at 450 degrees. The team's discovery featured a bit of "serendipity," Wiesner said. In the first attempt to achieve superconductivity, the niobium oxide (under flowing ammonia for conversion to the nitride) was heated to a temperature of 700 degrees. After cooling the material to room temperature, it was determined that superconductivity had not been achieved. The same material was then heated to 850 degrees, cooled and tested, and superconductivity had been achieved. "We tried going directly to 850, and that didn't work," Wiesner said. "So we had to heat it to 700, cool it and then heat it to 850 and then it worked. Only then." Wiesner said the group is unable to explain why the heating, cooling and reheating works, but "it's something we're continuing to research," he added. Limited previous study on mesostructured superconductors was due, in part, to a lack of suitable material for testing. The work by Wiesner's team is a first step toward more research in this area. "We are saying to the superconducting community, 'Hey, look guys, these organic block copolymer materials can help you generate completely new superconducting structures and composite materials, which may have completely novel properties and transition temperatures. This is worth looking into,'" Wiesner said. The group's findings are detailed in a paper published in Science Advances, Jan. 29. Explore further: Electron spin could be the key to high-temperature superconductivity

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